Saturday, November 23, 2019

Where's The Outrage? America's Political Apathy

A few weeks ago former President Barack Obama gave a speech before Democracy Alliance. The speech was one of those typical "rah rah" events designed to rally the troops. Mr. Obama stated that one of the problems facing the Democratic Party was that the people no longer knew what the party stands for. He pointed out that much of what the public saw and heard came from the Far Left through Twitter feeds and other social media outlets; much of it promoting "crazy stuff".

I can't say that I disagree with Obama on that point. Most of what we see and hear are, in fact, some pretty outlandish ideas. However, there were several other points made in his speech which caught my attention. First, much of what he said seemed to reflect his support for the military-industrial state and Wall Street.

Historically, the Democratic Party was seen as the "working class" or "blue collar" party. However, that changed decades ago as unions began losing their financial and political clout and the party became ever increasingly propped up by the super wealthy and corporations. This was especially true after the infamous "Citizens United" decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. which effectively ended any remaining illusions of our country's republican ideals.

Today, both the Democrat and Republican parties are owned by corporate interests, and with them, their politicians. Their lobbyists help write legislation and then actively promote its passage through Congress. As a result, we've devolved from a representative or democratic Republic into a defacto Oligarchy; a plutocracy. A neo-Fascist state if you will.

Mr. Obama went on to say that America "is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement". He added that Americans “like seeing things improved. But the average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.” While it's absolutely true that Americans have lost a willingness to impose changes on our broken system, I question his comment that we aren't wanting to see the system totally remade. He made it sound like we're apathetic; like we're content to wallow in a muck not of our making until someone else comes along to clean it up for us.

Right now, there are thousands of mass protests happening around the world, from Chile to Hong Kong. Citizens are openly challenging their government (some even have reputations for brutal reprisals and repression) over issues such as freedom of speech, movement, expression---including that of religion, the climate, and free enterprise. Yet here in the U.S., with Congress maintaining dismal approval ratings for decades, where are the protests? In other countries, similar ratings are often enough of a concern to threaten governmental stability.

As an example, during the week of November 1, 2019, Congress had a disapproval rating of 72% (with 3% having no opinion)! Can you imagine? Governments in other countries would have collapsed with those kind of numbers. Congress hasn't seen an approval rating in the thirties since the last week in August...2009! And this isn't a "Republicans only" issue. The American People have soured on both parties, keeping the approval rating in the dumpster regardless of who controls the Senate or House. In fact, the same October poll asked if we approved of the way Democrats or Republicans were doing their job. 60% said no to both.

I think Americans know beyond the shadow of doubt that the political (and to a large degree, the judicial system) are broken beyond repair. No amount of "reform" or changing the window dressing (ie: voting out the incumbents) are going to fix it. Yet, we sit on our couches watching TV or playing video games, lost in the noise, and do nothing. Sure, we may "bitch and moan" on social media (while subconsciously aware that the new surveillance state is probably reading everything we write) or complain to friends or coworkers. A few may be willing to sign online petitions, but not much more than that happens.

Yeah, the Left have staged a few protests, but very few have been large (perhaps the largest to date was during President Trump's inauguration by Antifa) or sustained. The last best example was the "Occupy Movement" in 2011. Most have been small ad hoc protests attempting to block intersections or highways (a really lame idea by the way) or appearing at Trump or conservative gatherings. As for the Right, they haven't staged any mass protests that I'm aware of. At best, it's been relatively small counter protests. However, all have been directed at the other side. None at the political system itself.

Over the decades, protests against the government have been fairly successful. Look back to the Civil Rights movement. It included calculated acts of defiance designed to attract public attention such as in 1955 with Rosa Parks sitting in a "whites only" section of a city bus in Montgomery Alabama, four black students sitting at a "whites only" lunch counter at Woolworths in Greensboro North Carolina in 1960, or the Freedom Riders in parts of the South in 1961. These were coordinated with mass marches on state capitols along with demands for Congress and the President to act.

The Vietnam War was replete with examples. Everything from sit-ins, protests outside government offices, mass marches, draft card burnings, occupying college administration offices and recruiting stations, and other acts of refusal aimed specifically at garnering the public's attention. It even branched out to include popular celebrities and TV shows (remember the Smothers Brothers?) to incorporating its message in the era's music and arts. Of course, there were, unfortunately, acts of violence brought on by groups such as the Black Panthers (which evolved out of the Black Power Movement), the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Weathermen, and the SLA.

Some was the result of and in response to acts of violence by the KKK and Neo-Nazis who used violence as acts of intimidation (such as blowing up churches, schools, beatings, or outright assassinations). The government too got in on the act by illegally wiretapping, surveillance, break-ins, reading stolen mail, physical intimidation, blackmail, imprisonment, fines, tax audits. Of course, we can't forget the Chicago Police riots during the Democratic National Convention in 1969 or the Ohio National Guard shootings at Kent State in 1970 in which four students were murdered and nine were injured.

There was, of course, the Women's Liberation, Environment, Farm workers, and Gay Pride movements as well as the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the late 60's early 70's. Those weren't known for their violence, but more for the shock value of women publically removing and burning their bras or gays holding parades aimed intentionally at gaining public attention by their outrageous dress and behavior, or the widespread boycotting of certain businesses. Nevertheless, these movements had as their objective equal pay and fair employment laws. They incorporated not just demonstrations, but citizens lobbying (including petitions) and working together to elect supporters to office.

Ultimately, these groups were largely successful. We saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Under President Richard Nixon the war in Vietnam finally ended thanks to public pressure by 1973. President Nixon also signed into law various bills aimed at cleaning up the air, water, protecting wildlife and consumer safety.

There was the passage of equal wage, fairness in housing and employment laws along with better working conditions for migrant and seasonal workers. However, while there were some initial improvements on Native American reservations, much was left undone, especially when it came to housing, education, and medical care because the pressure wasn't maintained.

Nowadays, with the advent of the internet and social media, it's much easier to organize marches and protests aimed at a unresponsive government, but where is it? Why are the limited demonstrations aimed at either side when corporate/government corruption is the ultimate "villain" in the act? I think the answer is that politicians and corporations got a lot smarter.

First, they redirected their PR departments to focus on creating a more friendly public image by trying to get involved with local projects, emphasis jobs, gloss over outcomes, and changed advertising techniques (for a great example, take a look at the oil and gas companies and how to cover spills or court orders). Even the military did a makeover to make itself more appealing by emphasizing education, training, and "adventure".

Politicians learned to create a more "common man" image; even changing their language to sound more "down to earth", rolling up their sleeves, or hiding their elite professional and academic credentials; telling voters what they want to hear or disguising their votes. Corporations and government also got a lot cozier, especially after Citizens United which opened up the financial floodgate and all but eliminated ordinary citizens from the process.

It's more common now than 20 years ago for politicians or key staffers to turn lobbyists, earning millions to solicit their former colleagues, and you best bet that nepotism is alive and well with spouses, family members and close friends securing some very lucrative positions. Meanwhile, lobbyists "help" write legislation, provide bill summaries (and their recommendations), and freely engage in what can be called as legalized bribery.

With nearly unlimited financing of their campaigns, along with partisan gerrymandering, no term limits, it has become nearly impossible to dislodge an incumbent. They changed election laws to all but eliminate Independents and third party candidates from debates. With these same corporations owning 90+% of all media outlets, Indies and third parties are either ignored or treated like the clown car in a two ring circus. It has resulted in creating a professional political elite; a ruling class.

We've devolved into is duopoly bought and paid by a super wealthy Oligarchy with its own values and separate laws. Society has become basically a two tier economic system with the top one percent controlling 40% of the nation's wealth while the bottom 80% control just 7%. The gap between the top 10% and everyone else is 1000% of their entire wealth.

A free nation cannot survive with a political system which caters to a tiny fraction of its population, or in which the vast majority of its population is all but eliminated from the process. We're encouraged to no longer think of ourselves as citizens of a country but as global consumers. Our worth is determined by our credit rating. Our differences are magnified out of proportion to what we have in common. Americans have been manipulated. We no longer know who to believe or trust. Our hopes have been distorted into "either/or" conflicts with others.

Worse yet, we've seen this corporate/government partnership (what Benito Mussolini defined as a "Fascist" relationship) attempt to restrict or deprive us of our rights. We've seen attempts at restricting our freedom of speech and expression, our ownership of guns, to freely travel, taxation without consent, being detained without charge, what we consume, our right to privacy, and even our right to protest. Did you that there are currently 20 states with pending legislation aimed at restricting our ability to protest? Four states---North and South Dakota, Tennessee, and Oklahoma---already have laws on the books to restricting protests. Where is our outrage?

Former President Obama is, I believe, wrong when he says that Americans don't want to "tear down the system and remake it". We do. We want to return to our representative Republic which offered each of us an equal opportunity to reach for our dreams. That doesn't mean we'll succeed. Outcomes were never guaranteed, only a level playing field. We want to return to a time where a limited government represents the people...not the super wealthy and not corporations.

If the Democratic Party can provide that, then so be it. If the Republicans can, great. If it takes a Independent or third party, then so much the better. Until then, we need to remember that protests and demonstrations work. They have worked in the past and they are working now all over the world. We must, as a nation, come together to remind those in office and those who control them that we---you and I---have the power. It's time to take back our country.

Gallup Poll: Congress and the Public

United States presidential approval ratings

Wealth inequality in the United States

Obama Tells His Party's Elites to Relax

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